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Ex-Indiana lawmaker sentenced in casino money scheme

Brent Waltz, of Greenwood, pleaded guilty in April to helping route about $40,000 in illegal contributions to his campaign and making false statements to the FBI.

INDIANAPOLIS — A former Indiana state senator has been sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for his role in a scheme that illegally funneled about $40,000 from a casino company to his unsuccessful 2016 congressional campaign.  

The federal investigation into contributions to Republican Brent Waltz’s campaign tied to a former casino executive led the Indiana Gaming Commission to force the company out of its lucrative ownership of projects for new casinos in Gary and Terre Haute. 

Waltz, 48, of Greenwood, pleaded guilty in April to helping route about $40,000 in illegal contributions to his campaign and making false statements to the FBI.

Federal prosecutors had requested the 10-month sentence. U.S. District Judge James Sweeney, who also ordered Waltz to pay a fine of $40,500, could have sentenced him to up to five years in prison on each charge.

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A sentencing hearing was scheduled Wednesday afternoon for John Keeler, Waltz's co-defendant and a former top executive of Indianapolis-based Centaur Gaming.

An investigation into the donations made to Waltz's campaign uncovered a company that was reimbursing a group of people for their campaign contributions.

Keeler, a lawyer who was a Republican legislator for 16 years in the 1980s and 90s, pleaded guilty in April to filing a false tax return for claiming as a business expense $41,000 that the casino company paid to a political consultant who, prosecutors say, made the contributions through straw donors.

RELATED: Former Indiana casino executive pleads guilty to tax fraud

More than a dozen straw donors contributed $2,700 (maximum individual contribution allowed by law) and then allegedly were reimbursed by New Centaur, LLC or by Waltz, who issued checks to a company that then paid the donors.

There were also allegedly contributions from New Centaur directly to Waltz and his campaign adviser. Waltz is accused of knowing New Centaur was paying his campaign adviser. 

When the FBI questioned Waltz, he lied to try to cover up the illegal activity. Court documents say false invoices were made in an unsuccessful effort to hide the money from New Centaur.

Federal prosecutors urged the judge to sentence Waltz and Keeler to at least 10 months in prison to discourage similar crimes by others. Prosecutors described both men as wealthy with successful careers.

“None of this was enough for either defendant,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing. “They wanted more, and they chose to commit crimes of opportunity — not economic necessity — to get what they wanted.”

The investigation into Keeler and Waltz also led the Indiana Gaming Commission to raise financial misconduct allegations against former Spectacle CEO Rod Ratcliff, who agreed to give up his state casino license, ending more than a decade as a heavyweight in Indiana’s gambling industry. Ratcliff has not been charged with any crime.

Ratcliff and Keeler were leaders of Centaur Gaming, which sold Indiana’s two horse track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville to Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. in 2018 for $1.7 billion. They led a group that then formed Spectacle Entertainment to buy the Gary casino operation.

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